Classical Mythology: Clash of the Titans

Clash of the Titans

Not all the Titans chose to fight against the children of Cronus. In fact, of the 12 original Titans, only five took up arms. None of the six original Titanesses got involved in the conflict. And Oceanus, who feared the power of Zeus, prudently refrained from taking sides in the conflict. Indeed, Oceanus and Tethys reared Hera, their niece, whom their sister Rhea entrusted to them.

The second generation of Titans—the children of the original Titans—had its holdouts, too. Helius refused to take sides, remaining neutral throughout the war. Prometheus and Epimetheus not only failed to support their parents, but sided with their cousins instead.

Three Hundred Helping Hands

The war did not resolve itself swiftly. After all, it pitted the nearly invincible Titans against the equally formidable children of Cronus. Every day for 10 years both sides fought fiercely on the battlefield, with each side stubbornly alternating attacks and retreats. The daily combat weakened both groups of immortals. Yet even after 10 years, neither side could claim victory.

Gaia foretold that the children of Cronus would triumph if joined by their allies in Tartarus. She assured Zeus that an alliance between the three Hundred-Handed, 50-headed Giants and the new Olympians would claim victory and the glory that comes with it.

Zeus heeded this oracle and headed straight down to Tartarus, the darkest depths of the Underworld. After killing Campe, the jailer, and stealing her keys, Zeus freed all six of his uncles: the Cyclopes and the Hundred-Handed Giants. He immediately relieved them of both thirst and hunger with offerings of nectar and ambrosia, which revived both their bodies and their spirits.

After leading them up out of Tartarus, Zeus enlisted all six, reminding them who had pulled them out of the earth's depths—and who had put them there in the first place. Briareus, Cottus, and Gyges—the Hundred-Handed Giants—quickly pledged their lives to protecting Zeus's power. The Cyclopes also needed little convincing. Indeed, they showed their gratitude by contriving new weapons and presenting them to the sons of Cronus:

  • For Zeus, the Cyclopes forged thunder and lightning, which would become his weapons of choice.
  • To Hades, the Cyclopes proffered the helmet of darkness, a magical hood that makes its wearer invisible.
  • For Poseidon, they forged a trident, which would become emblematic of the future god of the sea.

After Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon held a war counsel, the fighting resumed with a new enthusiasm on the younger generation's part. By contrast, the Titans—now led in battle by Atlas, whom the other Titans had hand-picked to replace their not-so-invincible former leader, Cronus—seemed weary of the endless battles.

To Hell with the Titans

Briareus, Cottus, and Gyges proved to be formidable warriors. The Hundred-Handed Giants attacked the Titans with barrages of massive boulders—hurled in crushing volleys of 300, one from each of their mighty arms. The clash of warriors was so fierce that the sound of their fighting made the earth rumble, the sea swell, and the heavens shake. Even the depths of Tartarus resounded with the sound of their blows and the landing of their missiles.

Zeus also showed his mettle in this renewed campaign. The god steadily advanced upon the Titans, hurling his new thunderbolts in front of him. The earth itself became scorched with his flames. Vast forests were eradicated and the oceans and rivers steamed with the heat of Zeus's blasts. The earth-born Titans, overcome by the steam and blinded by the thunderbolts, soon fell to the Olympian gods.

Mythed by a Mile

The followers of Orpheus—who rejected the more prevalent classical notion that conflict shaped the world, embracing instead the concept of a world ordered by pre-destined structures—told quite a different tale of what happened to Cronus after the fall of the Titans. Zeus wrapped his father in chains and dragged him to the outermost regions of the earth, depositing him on the Islands of the Blessed—idyllic islands where the Golden Age of Man still lived. According to this more peaceful worldview, Cronus then ruled these islands, where mortal heroes who have become immortals resided forever.

The gifts offered by the Cyclopes proved invaluable weapons, especially in the attack on Cronus. Invisible under the helmet of darkness, Hades slipped inside Cronus's stronghold and stole his weapons. Poseidon quickly followed and began attacking his father with the trident. Though this assault did not harm Cronus, it distracted him enough to allow Zeus to hurl a thunderbolt at his defenseless father. Cronus finally had to concede victory to his sons.

Having crushed Cronus and the Titans, the army of Zeus drove all of their enemies down to the lowest depths of Tartarus. Zeus decreed that the Titans should remain imprisoned in Tartarus, hidden away far below the earth, forever. Securely locked behind its marble gates and bronze threshold, deeply rooted in the ground, the Titans had no chance of escape. But just in case they did, Briareus, Cottus, and Gyges—three Giants with 150 heads among them—stood watch outside the walls of Tartarus.

Only one Titan who had opposed Zeus avoided eternal imprisonment in Tartarus. For Atlas, who had led his fellow Titans in battle, Zeus reserved a special punishment. The god placed Atlas at the westernmost end of the earth and ordered him to lift up the sky and bear the weight of the heavens forevermore on his head and shoulders.

As for his supporters, the new king of the immortals rewarded them handsomely. To Briareus, Zeus gave his daughter, Cymopoleia. The Titans who did not oppose the Olympians—the six Titanesses, Oceanus, Helius, Prometheus, and Epimetheus—all retained their places of honor and their functions. The Olympians showed particular reverence for Themis, Oceanus, and Tethys. By remembering his supporters, Zeus helped to ensure that his reign—unlike those of his father and grandfather—would last forever.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Classical Mythology © 2004 by Kevin Osborn and Dana L. Burgess, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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